In the wake of the devastating explosion last week that killed more than 160 people and left more than 200,000 without homes, the government of Lebanon has opted to fall on its sword. Facing growing protests in the streets and accusations of corruption, Prime Minister Hassan Diab has announced that he and the cabinet will step down in order to let new elections take place. Is this a sea change for a nation suffering tragedy? Or is it business as usual for the government in Beirut that appears near permanently mired in controversy?
Setting the Stage
Diab, positioning himself as a reformer, suggested that he had done all he could to help the nation recover from the damage, but that the endemic corruption was “bigger than the state” itself. He continued:
“They knew that we pose a threat to them and that the success of this government means a real change in this long-ruling class whose corruption has asphyxiated the country.
“Today we follow the will of the people in their demand to hold accountable those responsible for the disaster that has been in hiding for seven years, and their desire for real change.”
Referencing the slow decline of the economy at the hands of other members of the power-sharing government, Diab seems likely to attempt to become an integral part of the next ruling group – Lebanon’s third in the last year.
Many nations have offered financial assistance to help with recovery efforts, but with an economy in the tank, it appears these offerings will be scant droplets in the arid fiscal environment. As Liberty Nation’s Andrew Moran wrote:
“The nation is experiencing a currency crisis, causing the pound to lose as much as 90% of its value in only a few months. Inflation has spiked 85%, and food inflation has soared 200%. Savings have been wiped out. Medicine shortages are prevalent, and the demand for social services has skyrocketed. The unemployment rate has topped 7%. Rolling blackouts and rising suicide cases have contributed to the financial crisis crippling Lebanon.”
Yet not all international cooperation is being so readily accepted by President Michel Aoun. Offers of assistance in finding out the cause and circumstances of the explosion that rocked Beirut have been firmly rejected, with Aoun saying that proposals to help were aimed at “distorting the truth” and slowing the internal investigation.
Aoun has asked Diab, along with his cabinet, to stay on until a new government can be formed.
Meet the New Boss …
Protests in the streets, stones and Molotov cocktails thrown, and riots against the police. These are part of the normal state of affairs for the belabored country that can’t seem to shift the corruption out of its capital. This standing down of government is more an exercise in international public relations than a true effort at genuine reform.
The same corrupt class will still be in place, wetting their beaks on international aid as an estimated 50% of the country sinks into poverty. This is no continuation of the controversial Arab Spring; it is a game of smoke and mirrors with a predetermined outcome.
Read more from Mark Angelides.